Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lists! Glorious lists!

The New York Times has offered theirs. So has Amazon. And the Economist. Not forgetting popular Christian blogger Tim Challies. Yes folks, it's that time of the year again where top 10 (or 100, or whatever number you like) list-making is in fashion, and the bibliophiles are out in force.

To be honest, I can't remember off-hand every single book I read this year, much less compile and rank them. So instead I thought I'll just offer a short annotated list and categorise them to the best of my ability. Remember, this list doesn't mean I endorse completely all the books mentioned!

Page turner of the year: The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold
This was probably my favourite read of 2008. A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy romp with a very likable hero and - very important for a fantasy novel - a well-imagined world which sucked you right in.

"Worthy" novel of the year: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Both were among the (allegedly) more weighty works I tackled these year and I can't really decided between the two, both prize-winning novels which were critically-acclaimed. The former deals with the aftermath of an accident which leads to one of the characters suffering from Capgras Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which the sufferer is unable to recognise his loved ones. The latter deals with a disastrous sojourn in the Congo by a missionary family in the middle of the 20th century. Both thought-provoking in their own right.

Novel (Honourable mention): Death of a Red Heroine - Qiu Xialong
Couldn't quite decide what category I should put this under but it merits a mention. It's a detective novel set in Shanghai in the early 1990s, as well as a vividly painted picture of modern China. I certainly won't mind picking up the 2nd book in this series!

Mind-bending book of the year: The Stuff of Thought - Steven Pinker
No question, this book was easily hands-down the one that made my brain ache the most. Pinker tackles stuff like the relationship between words and thoughts, language and space-time, why some names are popular and so on. He's a very, very good writer, and he explains things well, but the concepts he deals with are innately difficult so ouch!

Inspiring read of the year: Faith that Endures - Ronald Boyd-Macmillan

Best Christian living book: You can Change - Tim Chester
Clear and simple, but gets at the heart of our ongoing struggles with sin. This and Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within will probably be the first two books I recommend to any Christian on day-to-day living.

Best "old" book: The Doctrine of Repentance - Thomas Watson
C.S Lewis once advised, if I remember correctly, that for every three 'new' books you read, you should read an 'old' one. So I tried to, and set a low target of two 'old' books for the year, defining 'old' as anything that predates C.S Lewis. I failed miserably, as this was the only 'old' book I read, so it wins by default. Still, it's a good one. Written in 1668 by a Puritan, and pretty accessible; my edition was, anyway. If you can read C.S Lewis you can certainly read this. It has a certain weightiness to it that is missing from many contemporary books. Next year: I'll see if I can finally get round to G.K Chesterton's Orthodoxy!

Best Christian theology-type book: The Worshipping Trinity - Robin Parry
Now this was hard, but I guess this one edges ahead of the competition: concise, instructive and a joy to read. Parry shows how the Trinity is fundamental to our faith and to Christian living. There were some other very good ones as well. Tim Keller's The Reason for God is superb and I would love to have my own copy. I enjoyed what little I read of Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope as well as the lesser-known 666 and all that by John Dickson and Greg Clarke.

Commentary: Colossians (NIVAC) - David Garland
I actually did use a few commentaries this year, and though I'm still very much a novice at learning how to utilise them for maximum benefit, thought I'll create a category for them. Garland's Colossians commentary seems to be close to what I think you want in this type of work. He discusses issues well, lays out the options and defends his position clearly. I also read two very good expositions this year - Roy Clements on 2 Corinthians (The Strength of Weakness) and Sinclair Ferguson on Ruth (Faithful God). And I think I will be going back to Michael Bird's introduction to Paul, A Bird's Eye View of Paul.

The one that got away: The Bible and Other Faiths - Ida Glaser
I regret not finishing off this series, and I'll see if I can. But this was definitely a thought-provoking read, especially her insights into the links between gods/powers-people-land.

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